Geese are members of the Anatidae waterbird family, and there are two genera; Branta, the black geese, and Anser, the grey geese. Geese are powerful, robust birds that tend to live at higher latitudes, though they are found in South Asia and South America too.
Baby geese are born precocial, which means they’re reasonably well-developed, covered in down, and are almost ready to leave the nest and feed immediately. Most goslings are covered in a yellowish down which turns light grey to olive green towards the tips of the feathers.
Goslings are much lighter than ducklings and lack the black stripe through their eye, with overall less-defined colouration. Overall, goslings are more yellow than cygnets, which tend to be a light grey.
Goslings are also quite large with long necks and triangular bills, which contrast with the flatter bills of ducklings.
With their fluffy down and stubby wings, goslings are cute and characterful. They leave the nest within 24 hours, which makes them pretty conspicuous throughout the breeding season, especially compared to other baby birds that remain well hidden.
Canadian Goose Gosling foraging for food
Baby geese are just a few inches long and around 5 to 7 inches high, depending on the species. Goslings are considerably larger than ducklings and have longer necks, making them appear taller, but are considerably smaller than baby swans (cygnets).
Geese are large birds that weigh up to 5kg, and the chicks grow quickly, though juvenile geese take around 1.5 years or longer to reach their full size. Most geese are long-lived and have slow breeding cycles.
Baby geese from larger species weigh over 100g.
Goslings are heavier than ducklings which weigh around 30 to 40g (in the case of Mallards), but are considerably lighter than cygnets that weigh up to 250g.
Young Greylag Goose goslings on the ground
Goslings begin to moult their juvenile down after around 20 days to 1 month, at which point their first pre-juvenile moult begins. This sees them lose their down and grow initial juvenile feathers, which are fluffy and patchy for around 3 to 6 weeks at which point new feathers begin to emerge.
Flight feathers begin to erupt after around 4 to 8 weeks, at which point some goslings will begin to fledge, taking their first flight. Smaller species of geese often fledge earlier - the fledgling period for Lesser White-Fronted geese is more like 45 days than 8 weeks.
Juveniles are duller than adults, lacking the darkest and lightest contrasting plumage. In addition, some geese have white patches or stripes on their heads or necks (such as the Canada goose’s white cheek patch), which the juveniles lack.
Juveniles remain dull with low-contrasting feathers for the best part of 6 months and won’t attain their first basic adult plumage for at least a year. For example, Canada geese juveniles won’t look like adults for around 1.5 years after birth, and take a further year or so to reach sexual maturity.
Juvenile Canada Goose Chick (Gosling)
Baby geese are called goslings, derived from the Old Norse gás and later adapted into the English goose. A baby goose may have been called a “gooseling” and then shortened to “gosling”.
Many baby waterfowl have unique names, such as duckling and cygnet, whereas other baby birds are often simply called ‘chicks’.
This is likely because humans and geese have shared a close relationship for thousands of years - geese were domesticated as early as 7,000 years ago!
Baby geese share the same diet as their parents, consuming a wide range of seeds, grasses, roots, grains, bulbs, berries and aquatic plants.
Geese are primarily herbivorous, but some species also eat small invertebrates, gastropods, crustaceans and small fish. However, for the most part, baby geese have a steady diet of grasses and other vegetation.
Goslings can feed themselves within just 24 hours of hatching and will follow their parent's cues to discover what they can and can’t eat.
Three baby geese (goslings) foraging for food
Geese parents don’t feed the chicks - the chicks are perfectly able to forage and eat for themselves.
However, the parents do show their chicks what to eat by pecking at the undergrowth. The baby goslings follow their parent’s cues but are willing to experiment by pecking at various grasses and vegetation.
Goose eggs are quite large and are nearly always a creamy white. In the case of a Canada goose, eggs measure around 3.3in (8.3cm) by 2.2in (5.6cm) and weigh between 100 and 180g.
Goose eggs are highly variable in size and weight, with the smallest eggs weighing around 60% of the largest.
Smaller species of geese lay smaller eggs, typically weighing around 100g. Goose eggs are large and heavy but are significantly smaller than swan eggs which can weigh up to 350g!
Four large white Canada goose eggs in the nest
Geese incubation times range between 26 to 34 days. Geese in colder environments like the Sub-Arctic typically experience longer incubation times, with geese in milder or warmer climates experiencing shorter incubation times.
Once hatching begins, it takes the gosling around 24 to 36 hours to emerge from the egg.
The average clutch size for most species of swans is around 5 eggs, but larger clutches of up to 12 eggs have been reported for Greylag and Canada geese at least.
Once hatched, a goose brood may number around 5 to 10 chicks. On rare occasions, two broods merge into one, creating large flocks of up to 15 birds.
In addition, mixed gosling flocks have been observed that include members from two or more species or subspecies - but that’s very rare.
Parent Greylag geese with their goslings
Most species of geese lay their eggs in the typical spring breeding season, which ranges from April to around June.
However, some species lay their eggs earlier in March or even late February if the weather is mild. In the Sub-Arctic, geese tend to time egg-laying with the first snow melt.
Baby geese remain in their family unit for the best part of a year, if not longer. As summer progresses to fall, goslings remain close to their parents in a family unit which sometimes merges with other family flocks.
In fall, the young geese join their parents for their first migratory journey. Once they return in spring, the then-juvenile geese begin forming juvenile flocks while remaining close to their parents.
Young geese won’t become fully independent from their family unit until they obtain sexual maturity, which typically takes at least two years.
Juvenile Snow Geese in the flock together
Geese parents don’t feed their chicks - the chicks feed themselves. Goslings are born precocial, meaning they’re highly developed at the point they emerge from the egg. Within just 24 hours, goslings are able to forage and feed themselves, pecking at the undergrowth and experimenting with what they can and can’t eat.
While they take cues from their parents, their parents don’t physically feed them. Goslings consume practically the same diet as their parents, mainly grass and vegetation.
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